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Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): My right hon. Friend will not want to prejudge the findings of the inquiry into the initial cause of the outbreak. However, will he address the issue of feeding swill to pigs? Most pig farmers do not feed swill to their
Mr. Brown: The small proportion of the pig industry that still uses swill--about 1.5 per cent. of the total United Kingdom pig sector--is allowed to do so under licensed conditions. Of course, heat treatment of swill is crucial in making sure that foot and mouth disease does not spread in the sector and more widely. Clearly, we will look at the question of swill feed very thoroughly once we come to review the disease outbreak.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): The Minister and the Ministry were rightly congratulated on the speed and decisiveness of their original decision. To some extent, we seem to be learning a little more as we go along. For instance, the strategic distribution of disinfectant and even disinfectant baths at ports for all vehicles have now been introduced, although they were not in place last week. When did the Ministry last formally review foot and mouth emergency procedures and when were they updated? How often does the Ministry review the exclusion zones so that farms caught within the restrictions but which may be able to come out of them can do so as soon as possible and move their animals? Is the Minister perfectly satisfied that burning animals, as opposed to burial, represents the best means of not spreading of the disease?
I do not think that burial on the farm is the right way forward; issues involving watercourses make that a less desirable way of proceeding. Frankly, each method has things to be said against it, as well as for it. I am certain that burning does not spread the virus, which is the question most often put to me. The hon. Gentleman said that we are learning more as we go along. That is a fair point: we do not know where the disease will emerge or how far it had spread before we put the movement restrictions in place.
I promise to examine the hon. Gentleman's point about emergency procedures. Clearly, we shall want to take stock of all that, partly in the light of the classical swine fever outbreak and partly, of course, in the light of the foot and mouth outbreak as well.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about animal welfare, but I stress the urgency with which he must deal with the issue of ewes in lamb. I have local farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey of Rushton Spencer, who need to move their ewes up to 15 miles back to the farm, and who are extremely concerned about the effect on the ewes' condition if they are not returned to the farm.
Mr. Brown: I am grateful for the support of the local chairman of the NFU. I had an opportunity yesterday to discuss all these issues in some detail with the president of the NFU, Mr. Ben Gill. Perhaps the most intractable problem, although by no means the only one that we face, involves the ewes that are in winter quarters and that are breeding animals, due to give birth shortly. The question is whether they should be moved back to their home farm and, if so, in what conditions, and what animals they would be mixing with if they moved back. It is possible that they would move the disease through their own movement, or catch the disease when they arrive. That has to be thought about very carefully.
I want to do the right thing, not least because of the obvious animal welfare implications, which are clear to all hon. Members. I intend to make an announcement about the matter shortly. Because of the intractable nature of the problem, I cannot make a statement to the House today.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On the subject of sheep, I draw attention to the case of Mr. B. Robinson, who farms at Shipton Oliffe and has sheep lambing now on the top of Cleeve hill, which is unfenced. He cannot move the sheep off that hill, he cannot get to them to supervise the lambing and he feels that there is a welfare issue involved. Will the Minister urgently look into the problem of sheep?
All farmers support movement restrictions. Nobody wants to spread the disease. Will the Minister also look into the question of holding race meetings? He will be aware of the reports about Mr. Richard Mathews, who farms next to Lingfield race course. All race meetings were banned in 1967. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that aspect as well?
Mr. Brown: On the hon. Gentleman's first question, he will have heard what I said about lambing. Yes, it is a serious issue. Yes, we are focusing on it firmly, and I shall shortly have something to say. The hon. Gentleman's description of his constituent's problem shows how varied the specific problems are, and underpins the point made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who speaks for the Opposition, that the micromanagement of the situation is at the heart of finding workable solutions that are risk averse.
On the question about race meetings, I am guided by the professional advice of the state veterinary service, which has advised me that on veterinary grounds there is no reason at present for the Ministry to insist on the cancellation of race meetings, so I am leaving the decision, perfectly properly, to the racing authorities.
I have been approached by two of my dairy farmers, Mr. Andrew Cozens of Alkerton farm in Eastington, and Mr. John Shipp of Kingshill farm, near Berkeley. They have explained to me in graphic detail how difficult it is to drive the cows off and then to allow them to calve,
I also make a plea on behalf of the trading standards department of Gloucestershire county council and environmental health officers. When the crisis is over, will my right hon. Friend, together with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, examine the way we organise those departments, which are under incredible stress because they are the missing link in the operation that is under way?
Mr. Brown: There are issues that arise out of the Phillips report relating to the competences of national and local government. I express my thanks to the trading standards officers employed by local authorities, who have responded wholeheartedly and well to the current difficult situation, and are working well with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture. The issues are intractable. We have a partial solution, allowing carefully regulated localised movements of animals, which I hope will be of help to my hon. Friend's constituents, but there is a further problem with animals--mostly, but not solely, sheep--that need to move longer distances. As I told the House, I hope to have something more to say about that soon.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I have just faxed the right hon. Gentleman details of two cases and I should be grateful if I could re-emphasise them. First, Mr. Cragg of Allington has 85 ewes in lamb and needs to move them as soon as they have lambed to a field about half a mile away. Secondly, Mr. and Mrs. Markham of Billinghay are in the business of producing weaners. They do not have fattening facilities, and usually they move the weaners to a fattening unit. There are now 350 weaners on their farm and they are increasing in number day by day, or, at least, week by week, and there is a serious welfare problem. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore consider possibilities for limited movement so as to enable Mr. and Mrs. Markham to send their weaners to a fattening unit?
Mr. Brown: Both of the cases that the right hon. and learned Gentleman perfectly properly raises are typical of the problems that we are now trying to address. It is always dangerous to pronounce on individual cases without knowing the full facts, but, with regard to the first case that he raised, I believe that localised movement under strict licensing conditions, on which we are working, will help his constituent, and I certainly hope that that is the case.
On the second case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises, I am familiar with the layered nature of the modern pig industry and the need for movement within holdings. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, pigs are incredibly vulnerable to foot and mouth disease. They are probably the most vulnerable farm species. We do not have much of it in the pig herd at the moment--say I, touching wood, as everyone will notice--and that is a good thing as pigs pump out the virus more readily than other farmed livestock. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quotes an individual constituency case. I have the question of principle under close review, but I must act, first, on a precautionary basis and, secondly, on professional veterinary advice.